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We still need to learn exactly what is meant by the three qualities of wealth ; we must learn what it is to be transferable, limited in supply, and useful.
6. Wealth is transferable. By being transferable, we mean that a thing can be passed over (Latin, trans, across, and fero, I carry) from one person to another. Sometimes things can be literally handed over, like a watch or a book; sometimes they can be transferred by a written deed, or by legal possession, as in the case of land and houses; services, also, can be transferred, as when a footman hires himself to a master. Even a musician or a preacher transfers his services, when his auditors have the benefit of hearing him. But there are many desirable things which cannot be transferred from one person to another; a rich man can hire a footman, but he cannot buy the footman's good health; he can hire the services of the best physician, but if these services fail to restore health, there is no help. So, too, it is impossible really to buy or sell the love of relatives, the esteem of friends, the happiness of a good conscience. Wealth may do a great deal, but it cannot really ensure those things which are more precious than pearls and rubies. Political economy does not pretend to examine all the causes of happiness, and those moral riches which cannot be bought and sold are no part of wealth in our present use of the word. The poor man who has a good conscience, affectionate friends, and good health, may really be much happier than the rich man, who is deprived of such blessings; but, on the other hand, a man need not lose his good conscience, and his other sources of happiness when he becomes rich and enjoys all the interesting occupations and amusements which wealth can give. Wealth, then, is far from being the only good thing : nevertheless it is good, because it saves us from too severe labour, from the fear of actual want, and enables us to buy, such pleasant things and services as are transferable.
7. Wealth is limited in Supply. In the second place, things cannot be called wealth unless they be limited in supply; if we have just as much of any substance as we want, then we shall not esteem a new supply of it. Thus the air around us is not wealth in ordinary circumstances, because we have only to open our mouths and we get as much as we
What air we do actually breathe is exceedingly useful, because it keeps us alive ; but we usually pay nothing for it, because there is plenty for all. In a diving bell, or a deep mine, however, air becomes limited in supply, and then may be considered a part of wealth. When the tunnel under the English Channel is completed, it will be a great question how to get air to breathe in the middle of it. Even in the Metropolitan Railway tunnel a little more fresh air would be very valuable.
On the other hand diamonds, though much valued, are used for few purposes; they make beautiful ornaments and they serve to cut glass or to bore rocks. Their high value chiefly arises from the fact that they are scarce. Of course scarcity alone will not create value. There are many scarce metals, or minerals, of which only a few little bits have ever yet been seen; but such substances are not valuable, unless some special use has been found for them. The metal iridium is sold at a very high price because it is wanted for making the tips of gold pens, and can be got only in small quantities.
8. Wealth is useful. In the third place, we can easily see that everything which forms a part of wealth must be useful, or have utility, that is, it must serve some purpose, or be agreeable and desirable in some way or other. Senior said correctly that useful things are those which directly or indirectly produce pleasure or prevent pain. A well tuned and well played musical instrument produces pleasure ; a dose of medicine prevents pain to one who is in need of it. But it is often impossible to decide whether things give more pleasure or prevent more pain ;, dinner saves us from the pain of hunger and gives us the pleasure of eating good things. There is utility so far as pleasure is increased and pain decreased; nor does it matter, as far as political economy is concerned, what is the nature of the pleasure.
Then, again, we need not be particular as to whether things directly produce pleasure, like the clothes we wear, or whether they indirectly do so, as in the cases of the machines employed to make the clothes. Things are indirectly useful when, like tools, machines, materials, &c., they are only wanted to make other things, which shall be actually consumed and enjoyed by some person.
The carriage in which a person takes a pleasant drive is directly useful; the baker's cart which brings him food is indirectly useful. But sometimes we can hardly distinguish. Shall we say that the meat put into the mouth is directly, but the fork which puts it in is indirectly, useful?.
9. Commodity. We now know exactly what is wealth ; but instead of speaking continually of wealth, it will often be convenient to speak of commodities, or goods. A commodity is any portion of wealth-anything, therefore, which is useful, and transferable, and limited in supply. Wool, cotton, iron, tea, books, boots, pianos, &c., are all commodities in certain circumstances, but not in all circumstances. Wool on a stray sheep lost in the mountains is not a commodity, nor iron in a mine which cannot be worked. A commodity, in short, is anything which is really useful and wanted, so that people will buy or sell it. But, instead of the long word commodity, I shall often use the shorter word goods, and the reader should remember that
goods = commodities = portion of wealth.
UTILITY. 10. Our Wants are various. After a little reflection, we shall see that we generally want but little of any one kind of commodity, and prefer to have a portion of one kind and a portion of another kind. Nobody likes to make his dinner off potatoes only, or bread only, or even beef only; he prefers to have some beef, some bread, some potatoes, besides, perhaps, beer, pudding, &c. Similarly, a man would not care to have many suits of clothes all alike; he may wish to have several suits, no doubt, but then some should be warmer, others thinner; some for evening dress, others for travelling, and so on. A library all made of copies of the same book would be absurd; to keep several exact duplicates of any work would be generally useless. A collector of engravings would not care to have many identical copies of the same engraving. In all these, and many other cases, we learn that human wants tend towards variety ; each separate want is soon satisfied, or made full (Latin, satis, enough, and facere, to make), and then some other want begins to be felt. This was called by Senior the law or variety, and it is the most important law in the whole of political economy.
It is easy to see, too, that there is a natural order in which our wants follow each other as regards importance; we must have food to eat, and if we cannot get anything else we are glad to get bread; next we want meat, vegetables, fruit, and other delicacies. Clothing is not on the whole as necessary as food; but, when a man has plenty to eat, he begins to think of dressing himself well. Next comes the question of a house to live in; a mere cabin is better than nothing, but the richer a man is the larger the house he likes to have. When he has got a good house he wants to fill it with furniture, books, pictures, musical instruments, articles of vertu, and so forth.
Thus we can lay down very roughly a law of succession of wants, somewhat in this order : air, food, clothing, lodging, literature, articles of adornment and amusement.
It is very important to observe that there is no end nor limit to the number of various things which a rich man will like to have, if he can get them. He who has got one good house begins to wish for another : he likes to have one house in town, another in the country. Some dukes and other very rich people have four, five, or more houses. From these observations we learn that there can never be, among civilised nations, SO much wealth, that people would cease to wish for any more. However much we manage to produce, there are still many other things which we want to acquire. When people are well fed, they begin to want good clothing; when they are well clothed, they want good houses, and furniture, and objects of art. If, then, too much wealth were ever produced, it would be too much of one sort, not too much of all sorts. Farmers might be ruined if they grew so much corn that nobody could eat it all; then, instead of producing &o much corn, they ought to produce more beef and milk. Thus there is no fear that, by machinery or other improvements, things will be made so plentifully that workmen would be thrown out of employment, and not wanted any more. If men were not required at one trade, they would only need to learn a new trade.
When things are useful. The chief question to consider, then, is when things are useful and when they are not. This entirely depends upon whether we want them or not. Most things about us, the air, rain water, stones, soil, &c., are not wealth, because we do not want them, or want so little